What Losing My Job Did to Our Life Together

I quickly learned that we're really in this as a team.


I‘ve always been worried that C. and I didn’t know how we would act in a truly difficult situation—that inevitable moment when things took a turn for the miserable. We have dated and been engaged through the best and smoothest years of my life, and I have worried, from time to time, that our relationship had never truly been tested. Did we know what we were getting into? We were comfortable, happy, at ease in a cute apartment halfway between our respective jobs. I was the main breadwinner while he contributed what he could to our expenses out of his graduate student salary.

Losing a job is never easy, and, thankfully, we have a wonderful support network, but when I lost my job without notice the world seemed to drop out from under me. My first thoughts were not of my own fate—but of ours. I was terrified that C. relied on me and that I could no longer deliver. If I were alone, this would be easier, I thought. It would be my loss, and I could bear it. I would move back home if I had to, and no one else would have to cut out meat from their diet in order to afford breaking the lease. I knew I could do this alone—I’d done it before—but together? Could he rough it with me? Could I bear letting someone else down?

When I got home that evening I was still not convinced it was easier together, but it was a relief to see him. It was a relief to have someone there, to hold me, to get angry on my behalf so I didn’t have to wallow in my own self-pity. It helped a lot to have someone who sat with me quietly, didn’t ask too many questions, and focused on the here-and-now. It turned out that I knew this man well, and he was just as wonderful in caring for me when I was heartbroken as he was in caring for me every other time. He didn’t let his worries overwhelm my need. He didn’t ask about tomorrow until I was done crying out today. And yet, while it was great to be in his arms, it was still awful to think about how he could live comfortably on his own salary alone, but now had to spread it thin to cover two people’s expenses through no fault of his own.

As the days passed, I noticed how his silent and constant presence calmed me and gave me fuel to persevere. With another person beside me who would sink or swim with me, I could not wallow and fall into depression. This was a true blessing. Dealing with adversity is different for everyone, but I deal best with difficulty when I can care for someone else through it. I am at a loss for how to heal my wounds, but with someone who is relying on me in the picture, I know exactly how to put one foot in front of the other. Action has always been my best medicine through hard times, and his presence spurned me into it, where otherwise I may have wallowed.

Is it easy to know that he must deal with this storm along with me because he has chosen to marry me? No. But I’ve come to see that this nagging worry of mine is entirely beside the point. I am marrying a man who loves me, whose life is made fuller by my part in it. Wealth is a meager solace in the face of loneliness. That is why the trope of being young and in love despite poverty is so powerful—because our needs are not only bread and water, shelter and clothing. A life rich in such basic needs is pallid and lackluster without the love, companionship, and trust that fills our souls with light. That is why, even when it’s harder to be together, we do not trade in our lovers for an easy life. Edna St. Vincent Millay said it better than me (of course), but she didn’t say it first:

It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

Does it really matter whether or not we’ll be able to afford a band at our wedding? Sure it does, because it sucks to short ourselves on things we want. But weddings are not love, and love is not all. Whatever this thing called love is—I wouldn’t trade it for the meager ease of not being responsible for C.’s joy and well-being. He is too much a part of my own joy and well-being.

Poem “Love Is Not All” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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  • Laura

    Thanks. That was good for me to read. My FH has a professional, well-paying job while I’m a graduate student. Sometimes I wonder why he wants to be with me because I’m a drain on his finances. Of course, when I step back and take an objective look at our relationship I realize that mindset is out of whack because I am a human being with thoughts and hopes and dreams, not an automaton whose sole purpose is making money. Money is important of course, but it is only a small fraction of what a good partner brings to a relationship.

    “For better or for worse” sounds so romantic and pretty, but it’s only during the tough times that you understand the full weight behind these words.

    I wish you all the best of luck searching for a new job and moving forward with your wedding plans. Your fiancé sounds great.

    • Crayfish Kate

      Oh I’m so glad you commented Laura, because I’m in the same boat. My FH also has a professional, well-paying, grown-up job, and I’m the grad student. I wonder the same things, and I’m so, so glad to see I’m not the only one that feels like a ball-and-chain sometimes. Thanks for keeping me grounded :-)

      • Amber

        I too am in the same boat. Grad student (in my final year!!) and my fiance covers most of our expenses. While sometimes I feel bad, or guilty even, for not being able to better contribute financially, I like to remind myself that grad school isn’t forever and that eventually I will be able to better contribute. Maybe not equally, as I’m in the non-profit world and he’s in the computer world, but I will at least be able to contribute. I am so grateful for his support and willingness to help further my education and career and for making it possible for me to live the life that I do. I like knowing that he’s got my back no matter what. One of many reasons I’m marrying him!

  • Nora

    so good. yes. yes. yes. as the part-time worker, full-time student to my partner’s full-time, funded PhD, I hear you on the spreading thin. Add in a sudden change in finances, and I can only imagine. Though I don’t love being broke most days (ok ever), the having less than we’ve had when we were both employed full-time has made us prioritize how we spend our money in ways we never did before.
    also, i sort of love the idea that marriage at it’s best is vowing to wrap your joy and well-being together. because he is a part of mine, and i am a part of his. and that is some days terrifying, but mostly just pretty amazing. I wish you all the best!

  • “I am at a loss for how to heal my wounds, but with someone who is relying on me in the picture, I know exactly how to put one foot in front of the other.” This, so much. Having that person you adore there with you to lean on and support (and who needs those things from you) makes getting through the tough times so much easier.

  • KB

    I definitely worry about the “do we know what we’re getting into” thing because right now I have a job that pays exceedingly well, but with the full knowledge that I don’t want to stay in it for any particularly extended length of time. My fiance loves his job, which is great, but he has a mountain of student loans that he’s trying to pay off. So we’re caught between three goals – wedding, the “Oh $%&*” Fund, and paying off loans – which is fine for now, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering what we’re really made of in those situations.

    • Not Sarah

      That’s exactly what you have that second fund for ;)

      • KB

        Hahaha, true, but then I think, “Imagine how big the ‘Oh, $%&* Fund’ would be if our wedding fund didn’t need so much…”

  • Yes. This post is wonderful. Being broke is hard. I’m a student with a meager income from my scholarships, and my FH now has a decently-paying job in his field, but we went through 4 months of unemployment together. It was rough, but we carried each other through.

    This question really resonated with me:
    “Is it easy to know that he must deal with this storm along with me because he has chosen to marry me?”

    Our storm right now isn’t finances but my own mental health, as my anxiety disorder which was once under control has flared up again. Figuring out how to get it back to managed has taken a bit longer than I would like, and it’s hard knowing that I’m a difficult person to deal with right now and knowing that my fragility and volatility is taking a toll on him. But we’re committed to meeting challenges together, and I couldn’t imagine doing this without his support. I wouldn’t trade it.

    Edna Vincent Millay says it so well.

  • Edelweiss

    I think I just found a reading for our ceremony! I love that poem, thank you for bringing it to me. We’ve had almost the opposite relationship – bundles of hardships including the death of a nephew, sickness of parents, job loss and underemployment, that there was a period that I actually worried that I knew we were great at the hard stuff – but would we still be great in the good times? (spoiler alert: we’re awesome)

    What I’m reading in this – and perhaps imposing on you – is that you choose each other in one set of circumstances and as the circumstances switch you’re reminded of the qualities that made you choose your partner. And that marriage is a constant active choice.

    It can be challenging to make that choice when things are hard, or when things are easy and the choice isn’t actively challenged. I’m so happy for both of you that you discovered that when you needed it.

    • SLG

      “We’ve had almost the opposite relationship – bundles of hardships including the death of a nephew, sickness of parents, job loss and underemployment, that there was a period that I actually worried that I knew we were great at the hard stuff – but would we still be great in the good times? (spoiler alert: we’re awesome)”

      Thanks for this. The 2-3 years during which I met, dated, got engaged to, and married my husband were some of the roughest 2-3 years of my life: bereavement, another bereavement by suicide, unemployment, church split, and other stuff I won’t go into here. The upside of this is that I never have to ask “will we be OK when the $%@& hits the fan?” because it already has, and believe me, this guy is rock-solid. We’re good at helping each other through the hard stuff. But I do sometimes wonder, what will we be like when we can just laugh?

      I think we’ll be awesome.

  • Really well-written. I completely understand the feeling of being a financial burden, thanks to a year of under-employment. It really messed with my sanity, even though my partner was completely okay with it and accepted that it was just a cycle of life. In every relationship, I try to be useful- whether friendship, professional, romantic, or what-have-you. I think this comes from just a desire to be a very capable, dependable person, but it often gets warped into “if I’m the one constantly needing things in this relationship, well then the other person if going to quickly get over my winning personality.” Thankfully, my partner loves me as a complete human being, not as a bread-winner, bread-baker, or any other kind of task-completer. I still have to work at seeing the way he values me, because he and I both have different needs and wants when it comes to companionship. When I’m valuing his company, it’s very touchy-feely, and I want to talk about everything; though for him, just being in the same room doing different things is important.

    Obviously, Anya captured all this so much better in her post. So in a nutshell, “exactly.”

  • oh, i love this so very, very much. beautiful writing and such a clear reminder for me. thank you.

  • This piece was just what I needed. In the past couple of years I have endured crippling mental illness, divorce and now a new marriage. I have been financially independent– and successfully so, for a better part of my adult life; these transgressions/transitions were not easy. When my partner asked me to marry him, initially I started drafting a 5 year plan to get on my feet, but it later hit me that his presence in my life was an integral part of that process. Making less money than I ever have as a legal adult, we managed to pull off the marriage celebration of our dreams, but moreover we managed to pull together and support each other in ways I would never have known had I waited for clearer skies. Our vows meant so much more having experienced some of what the worst of times can be…together.

  • I just left my job to move across the country so my husband can go back to school. I felt so much pressure to be the breadwinner, but wasn’t really ready to go back to another job I hated. I couldn’t believe how understanding he was of my need to ease into our move and a new job, and how supportive he has been as my search goes longer and longer. I like to take charge in emergencies as well, but it’s been amazing to have someone to lean on.

  • Elena

    Ohh, this post brings a wave of emotions in me. I’m also a main breadwinner and always worry – what if I lose my job? My fiance lost his job when we first moved in together (after less then 3 months of dating). It was stressful, but my income was more than enough to keep us afloat. Since then he was working on and off for a while, but I don’t think he ever really worried about not having a job for some time – I always found a way to find extra funds to cover our bills and extra spending splurges. I had to – all the credit cards, bills, and now a house mortgage are on my name due to his credit history being ruined with old medical bills (and also because I’m a more responsible one and actually do pay all the bills on time). And I often worry – what if I lose my well-paid job? Will he step it up and carry us through? Or will the mortgage and credit card bills will be a second priority, because he doesn’t understand how important good credit history is to me. He is always 100% there for me emotionally, but sometimes I have this tiny bug scratching me from the inside – will he still be there for me if things get tough and he has to sacrifice his comfort for us. I won’t know unless it actually happens, which I hope it won’t.

  • Concetta

    I had tears in my eyes as I read Anya’s story. Thank you for sharing it and expressing your thoughts so beautifully, and best of luck to you, Anya. It said what is in my heart… After four wonderful years together, I suddenly lost my job this summer, and my fiancee is now our main source of income. It was our first real hardship as a couple, and I was devastated. However, I am so lucky to be loved by a kind and wonderful man who reminds me I’m not my job, how much he loves me, and that everything will be all right. And keeps on telling me (even when I’m irrationally sobbing on the sofa because I no longer have an insurance card with my name on it and somehow that feels like my identity is gone). What a difference from the last time I was laid off eight years ago – single and totally independent. I spent more time being depressed back then, and it was truly awful. It is not awful this time. What makes it different is (as Anya says) that feeling of partnership, that feeling of having the burden be that much lighter, simply because it is willingly shared. The feeling of love. Four months into unemployment and eight months before our wedding, I know this: The Hard Stuff takes you by surprise. It is miserable. Life eventually goes on. Love goes on.

  • Ellie

    I really needed this right now, thank you.

  • Kamolika

    So beautifully written! After 10 years of friendship, I haven’t stopped learning from you. <3